The Heart of Racing Driver Credits IMSA’s Development Series and a Little Luck
By Mark Robinson
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Roman De Angelis is the first to admit that “the stars aligned” allowing his sports car racing career to blast off at only 20 years of age. The talented Canadian reached the pinnacle of success Saturday when he and teammate Ross Gunn became GT Daytona (GTD) class winners in the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic in Detroit.
It marked the first IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship victory for either driver and the maiden series win for Aston Martin. For De Angelis, it culminated several years of honing his craft in a pair of IMSA ladder series and catching the eye of the right influential people at the right time.
“The IMSA platform allows a lot of cross-championship driving,” De Angelis said Monday, after having two nights to soak in the Detroit win in the No. 23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3. “There’s a broad variety of series and cars that you can race in, but the competition’s always high. It allows for a very good steppingstone.”
De Angelis raced for three years in the IMSA-sanctioned Porsche GT3 Cup single-make series, competing for both the U.S. and Canada titles. He won the Canadian Gold Cup championship in 2017 at age 16, finished second in both the U.S. and Canada Platinum classes a year later, and completed his journey there with the Platinum class crown in the U.S. version in 2019.
In the middle of that experience, De Angelis also ran a completely different car – the Le Mans Prototype 3 – in three 2018 IMSA Prototype Challenge races. He won the season opener at Daytona International Speedway driving solo and teamed with Kyle Kirkwood to win the Michelin IMSA Sports Car Encore at Sebring International Raceway to close the season.
“Being in the Porsche Cup championship and the Prototype Challenge championship really helped catapult me into a GTD seat,” De Angelis said. “Because (the Porsche) is such a difficult car to grasp and learn, it’s made everything that I’ve driven besides it, I wouldn’t say ‘easier,’ but easier to understand the dynamics of the car. … It’s also a very competitive championship so being able to be at that level of competition really helped me.”
Those stepladder successes led to De Angelis being tabbed by Audi to drive for WRT Speedstar in the 2019 Rolex 24 At Daytona. Again, the stars aligned. Audi was searching for a Silver-rated driver who was also Canadian. Bingo! De Angelis was chosen.
One of his co-drivers happened to be Ian James. They finished third in GTD in the iconic 24-hour race and laid the foundation of a working relationship.
“I was paired with Ian James and we got along really well,” De Angelis recalled. “When the weekend was over, I thought I’d just made another friend. I didn’t know his hopes to start a team the next year. Kept in touch with him and I did the two championships in 2019 in Porsche GT3 Cup.”
When James started the Heart of Racing’s WeatherTech Championship GTD program last year, he asked De Angelis along for the ride.
“All the stars kind of aligned and Ian was the guy who put his trust in me and gave me the opportunity I’m in,” De Angelis. “It was lucky but it’s how racing goes.”
Lucky, and good. The team notched four top-four finishes in the last five races of 2020, including a runner-up result at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts to close the season. De Angelis, Gunn and James opened 2021 with a fifth-place finish in the Rolex 24 and a third at the Twelve Hours of Sebring. James, the team principal, then stepped aside to run the operation and let De Angelis and Gunn drive in the non-endurance events. The reward came Saturday with the Detroit win.
“This team has put a lot of work into developing the Aston, developing as a unit,” De Angelis said. “This team has molded very well together. The thing that makes it so rewarding is that all of us want to win together and it’s a very good atmosphere to work in.
“Working with Ian is amazing for me. He’s probably one of the most decorated IMSA drivers. He’s done so much, has so much experience, and he’s a great person in general. I can’t thank him enough for having me on board and putting trust in me.”
Gunn, an Aston Martin factory driver, sees the potential in his young co-driver.
“Roman’s done an incredible job,” Gunn said. “He’s still very young and very early in his GTD career, but he’s got a great career ahead of him.”
The energetic 20-year-old can’t wait to write the next chapter, with a pair of races at Watkins Glen International in the coming weeks. He, Gunn and James will share the No. 23 Aston for the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen on June 27. Five days later, De Angelis and Gunn will compete in the WeatherTech 240.
“I’m looking forward to getting back in the car already,” De Angelis said. “I wish there was a race this weekend.”